No-one is quite sure how the idea of lovelocks started. Some quote a Serbian love story that goes back to World War I. Others say the Chinese started it whilst others point to Italian author Federico Moccia’s book “Ho voglia di te” (I love you), published in 2006. How ever they started, lovelocks are now causing a headache for city councils worldwide with many threatening to prosecute. So is this true love, or vandalism?
In simple terms a love-lock is a padlock inscribed, or even engraved, with the names of two sweethearts. The couple fastens the padlock to a bridge and then throws the key into the river to symbolize their unbreakable love. A variation on the idea is to use a chain and padlock on a gate, fence or doorway where the chain represents everlasting love. And now padlocks are popping up all over the world. From Seoul to Sydney, Paris to Portland and Riga to Rome.
In Italy, there are two conflicting explanations for the proliferation of lovelocks in the last few years. One theory says that lovelocks originated in Florence where students from the San Giorgio Academy of Health locked their padlocks onto the Ponte Vecchio bridge after graduation.
The other blames Moccia’s book, especially after it was turned into a film starring popular Italian actors Riccardo Scarmarcio and Laura Chiatti. Based in and around Rome, the book and film see the two sealing their love with a padlock fastened to a lamp post on Ponte Milvio which has now become the setting for romantic pilgrims and lovers to demonstrate their true love.
The film also used two songs by pop singer Tiziano Ferro, who filmed scenes on Ponte Milvio for his video to “Ti scatterò una foto”. Tiziano’s lovesick teenage fans needed little encouragement to take the song, film and love locks to their hearts and so the idea grew!
Lovelocks are popping up all over Italy these days. They still adorn the Ponte Vecchio, attached to the railings around the statue of Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, even though the Renaissance man was hardly famous for being monogamous or a shining example of everlasting love!
His most famous work, a bronze of Perseus proudly parading the snake-haired head of Medusa while her bloodied body lies at his feet, is displayed round the corner in the Loggia dei Lanzi and does little to encourage the course of true love either but that doesn’t stop love-locks appearing! Even more are attached to the roadside chains along the River Arno near the Uffizzi gallery.
The same thing happens in Verona, although the padlocks are attached either to a gate in the courtyard to Giulietta’s house, of Romeo and Juliet fame, or to one of the many bridges across the River Adige.
And Venice, the city of romance, has thousands of padlocks on its hundreds of bridges, although locals and the council regularly clear them off. Indeed the problem has become so serious that the council spent several days last summer adding anti-lovelock measures to the famous wooden Accademia across the Grand Canal. And lovers leaving lovelocks can, I believe, now face a fine of around €80 if caught so if in doubt, don’t leave your love locked to a bridge in Venice!
Padlocks can also be seen on a fence of a waterwheel in the River Mincio at picture postcard perfect Valeggio sul Mincio near Lake Garda.
More still rust slowly to match Cefalù’s Sicillian seaside sunset.
That’s not to mention the lovelocks in Rome, Bologna, Turin, Bolzano and along the Via Dell’Amore path connecting Manarola and Riomaggiore on the beautiful Cinque Terre coastline. It seems that in Italy love really is everywhere!
But the padlocks are so popular now that many councils are beginning to clamp down on the practice considering them to be vandalism of old, historical bridges. Others see them as litter whilst council engineers complain that the added weight of the padlocks risks damaging the bridge structures.
And whilst lovers persist in locking their love to bridges throughout the peninsula councils fight a losing battle to remove them. In Rome, for example, the council cuts all the padocks off Ponte Milvio each year. Florence council regularly removes padlocks from the Ponte Vecchio. And campaigners have been out with wire-cutters in Venice over the last few months to ensure that the bridges are cleared.
But even removal brings its problems as each padlock must be cut off individually at a cost and without injuring passing traffic or passengers on the river, or canal, below with debris.
So now Venice council is talking of clamping down and fining people for attaching padlocks to any of its 409 bridges, a practice that is already illegal in the city, or buying locks from one of the many hawkers who line the Accademia. And Venice-based campaign group “Moccia digli che basta!” (Tell Moccia enough!) is backing the council to the hilt with one member, Alberto Toso Fei, even coming up with his own posters which I hope he won’t mind me sharing here!
For his part, Federico Moccia is unrepentant and even considers the padlocks street art. But as the love locks multiply, the councils fight on. Maybe Italy could take a leaf out of Moscow’s book and set up iron love lock trees as a focus for lovers’ demonstrations.
Whatever happens, and whether you think lovelocks are romantic or rubbish, I for one hope that in the end true love wins somehow. But ultimately if you need to prove your everlasting love with a cheap €2 padlock, perhaps you’re doing something wrong?! Just a thought!